wants an Arizona law to address problem
By TONI LAXSON
TRIBUNE - Winter 2004
Brenda High wants a law against bullies.
High, a former Scottsdale woman, is
organizing an Arizona chapter of the Bully Police USA today to fight for
a state law that would force schools to address children who torment children.
“Basically, Arizona needs to set the
rules for what's tolerable and what's not,” she said.
High knows it can be done. It was her
testimony to Washington state legislators that was instrumental in the
passage last year of an anti bullying law in that state, she said.
Her work may be an uphill climb in
Arizona, where the state and schools battle with budgets that are bleeding
red. Any mandated school legislation with a cost tied to it is likely to
be greeted with hostility by educators, and, therefore ineffective, said
Tom Horne, Arizona's superintendent of public instruction.
High, a 1971 graduate of Scottsdale
High School, pushed an antibody law through the Washington Legislature
by talking about her 13-year-old son, who committed suicide in 1998 after
months of physical and verbal abuse. She said her son's school in
Pasco, Wash., knew of dozens of previous incidents with the bully, but
had done nothing with him or for his victims.
She has since become an advocate for
school yard victims, and has two Web sites devoted to the issue. One tells
her son's story. The other collects information from other victims — kids
being bullied, parents of kids being bullied and adults traumatized as
children by bullies. “There's an amazing amount of adults out there
who are still suffering,” High said.
She believes legislation will make
a difference. The law should establish policies on what constitutes bullying,
and mandate that schools take steps to treat offenders and victims with
the involvement of parents. School curricula should include programs such
as those being implemented in Washington to promote empathy and respect,
she said. “It basically teaches them how to be kind to each other,”
Horne said that while he would like
to work with any group High organizes, he didn't think a legislative mandate
was the answer. “We are getting schools to work with us voluntarily,” he
He said the Arizona Board of Education
has two works in progress that would address bullying — one promoting character
and another restoring classroom discipline. “You let children know what
the expectations are, and one of these expectations is you treat people
with respect,” Horne said. There would be consequences to violating
those expectations that could lead to expulsion, he said.
Becky Ladd, an assistant professor
of psychology and education at Arizona State University, is studying the
effects of school bullies in a project funded by the National Science Foundation.
Ladd said she believes schools would welcome policies that define bullying,
adding that school principals call her for direction in dealing with bullies.
“They want to know what they can do. They are worried,” Ladd said.
But she questioned if programs effectively
treat the harassment, especially if the results are expulsion and suspension.
Children can go through empathic training and what she called an inoculation
of sympathy, but typically revert to bully tactics.
Sen. Slade Mead, R-Ahwatukee Foothills,
and a Kyrene Elementary School District governing board member, said schools
there already have a strict policy against bullies. Repeat offenders can
be suspended for up to 10 days, he said. As for statewide anti bully legislation,
Mead said he would oppose an unfunded mandate to schools. “That sounds
good, but there's going to be a cost associated with it,” Mead said. “If
you go school district to school district, I think we already have it.”
High said her son Jared was a normal,
athletic and even popular sixth-grader before a group of older boys started
picking on him. “It was serious enough that he started to change,” she
The youngest of her four children shifted
from a mellow personality to easily agitated. “Then the day came when he
was assaulted,” she said.
One teen a couple of years older and
twice the weight of her son, beat and kicked Jared for about 10 minutes
in an otherwise deserted school gym. Jared looked like he had been in a
severe car crash, the physician who treated him told her. Jared then didn't
sleep at night, didn't go out with the family and stopped socializing with
“There just wasn't a happy bone in
his body,” his mother said.
Before he killed himself, Jared refused
to go to school. High said she called her husband that morning from her
job to talk about doing something for their son, whose behavior was outside
normal for even a moody teenager. Jared also called his father that morning.
He said good-bye and shot himself while still on the phone.
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Article by permission of Toni Laxson